Linkin’ with Lincoln: Student Project Ideas

By Clara Mackin Fulkerson

< Lincoln Home < Field Trips

These are some of the Lincoln projects my fourth and fifth grade students from Cox’s Creek Elementary School developed as we studied Lincoln and visited Lincoln sites in Kentucky. It includes mention of some of the books and other information sources they used. Together we learned about Lincoln’s origins, his early childhood, the Lincoln family’s migration through Indiana and Illinois, his political career, his family life, life in Washington, D.C., and the last moments of his life. And students were able to make many connections between Lincoln and Kentucky and even their own lives today. Throughout the experience I joined them in finding myself using the phrase, “Wow—I didn’t know that!”

Birthplace Memories

Stephen Brown of the National Park Service tells students about Sinking Spring.

Stephen Brown of the National Park Service tells students about Sinking Spring.

Any study of Lincoln always benefits from a trip to where the story began 200 years ago, the property now known as the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site. Brandon, a fourth grade student, called upon his childhood memories of visits to the Sinking Spring as he worked on his project. Some of the best sources of information for this project were the teaching materials from the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site. Brandon was able to learn about and share historical information about the site. He also learned about the materials and equipment needed to build a log cabin in the early 1800s.

The Importance of Water

While the cabin in the Memorial Building at the birthplace park may be a symbolic representation of the birthplace of Lincoln, the Sinking Spring itself is definitely the real thing. When one visits Abraham Lincoln Birthplace, one cannot help but be awed by the realization that the spring still running today is the one that supplied the Lincoln family with water in the early 1800s. Water was also important at the Knob Creek farm, where the Lincolns later lived. Lincoln nearly lost his life in Knob Creek, but his friend Austin Gollagher saved him. Dane researched this information using the book Abe Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale by Deborah Hoskins. Dane and some of his classmates had the opportunity to visit Knob Creek in the fall of 2008. There they saw the log cabin owned by Austin Gollagher and his family and explore the garden maintained by the National Park Service rangers. It is exciting to consider that we are able to walk along the creek and hike in the same woods and fields as Abraham and his famiy. And, as a result of Dane’s research, his classmate Austin M. realized that if it were not for Austin G., Lincoln might have died and never become President.

Exploring items in the Traveling Trunk.

Harvesting gourds

School Days

Jacob chose to research Lincoln’s childhood years. He found it interesting that Lincoln’s parents had to pay a fee in order for him to attend school. Although Lincoln’s entire school career probably lasted no more than 12 months, his parents were willing to pay and send Abraham and his sister Sarah to school when they could. Jacob used a couple of books to find information: Carl Howell’s Lincoln the Kentucky Years and Abraham Lincoln Friend of the People by Clara Judson.

Lincoln’s Childhood

Beth’s focus was on the book If You Grew Up with Abraham Lincoln by Ann McGovern. One of the parts of this book that she found very interesting was its description of the way that the lives of Abraham and Sarah Lincoln changed when Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln became their stepmother. This second Mrs. Lincoln helped make the lives of the children more comfortable and helped foster a love of books and of reading in young Abraham. The book also features comparisons between the way that people worked or moved in the 1800s and the way we do those things today. An example of this comparison is the horse and buggy of the 1800s and automobiles of today.

Lincoln the Reader

Mackenzie, a fifth grade student who is an avid reader, found it interesting that Lincoln LOVED to read at a time when young boys and young men usually were not interested in books and reading. She learned through her research that Lincoln was sometimes punished for spending so much time with his books when he likely should have been doing his chores. Some of Abraham’s favorite books that Mackenzie explored were: Aesop’s Fables, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, and Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Mackenzie concluded that if Abraham Lincoln had not taught himself to read he might not have been our 16th president.

More Connections to Water

Water was important to Lincoln again as a young man who travelled the Mississippi River. Several of the students with whom I work had the opportunity to participate in the filming of the KET Electronic Field Trip to the Belle of Louisville. We used this as an opportunity to connect our trip with steamboat travel during Lincoln’s time.

Animals in Lincoln’s Life

When the students and I visited the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace, we saw deer grazing in the area around the Memorial Building. The deer did not seem to be at all threatened or disturbed by our presence. We couldn’t help but wonder about the animals that occupied this area in Lincoln’s time. This prompted Ali to study animals in Lincoln’s life, from the young Lincoln’s disdain for killing animals to his pets and the goats and cows that grazed the White House lawn during his presidency.

Jordan was interested in another story about Lincoln’s love of animals that involves a favorite turkey of his son Tad. It seems that “Tom” was so loved by the boy that his dad issued a Presidential pardon for the animal, a Thanksgiving tradition that continues today. (After all, it was President Lincoln who first proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November. The proclamation for an annual day of thanksgiving was written by Secretary of State William Seward and issued by President Lincoln on October 3, 1863.)

Lincoln’s Many Hats

Abraham Lincoln worked in several different jobs before entering the political arena. Logan read the book Abe Lincoln’s Hat by Martha Brenner and shared with us information about Mr. Lincoln using his hat the way a business person today would use a briefcase. For example, during his time as a postmaster, Lincoln carried letters in his hat, the way a mail carrier today uses the mailbag.

Brandon learned that Lincoln served as a captain during the Black Hawk War of 1832. Lincoln didn’t see military action during his time as a soldier, but it was the first time that he served in a leadership capacity. In addition to learning about the Black Hawk War, Brandon was also impressed that Lincoln was considered a champion wrestler. He learned that Lincoln’s size and strength was often helpful to him. He was a good worker, and Lincoln’s father began hiring Lincoln out when he was a young boy.

A Photobiography

The Centennial Statue

The Centennial Statue

Alexandra was especially interested in Russell Freedman’s book Abraham Lincoln: A Photobiography. She often shared information with her class that she learned from the book. Alex was impressed to learn that Lincoln often liked to go to school in order to avoid doing chores.

The Todds, the Clays, and the Lincolns

The book Mary Todd Lincoln, Girl of the Bluegrass by Katherine E.Wilkie was the focus of Shyla’s project. Shyla learned about the family relationship between the Todds and Henry Clay and his family. Clay was one of Lincoln’s heroes, and it is an interesting coincidence that Lincoln married a woman whose family was close friends with his hero. Mary was a very lively girl, and one of the most interesting stories about Mary involved the attempt that she and a cousin made to craft hoop skirts for themselves when they were not yet of age to wear the hoops under their skirts. Another interesting story is the time that Mary ran away from her home and went to Henry Clay’s home. She was sharing ice cream with the Clays when one of the servants from the Todd household came to pick her up to take her home.

Lincoln’s Children

The Lincolns had four sons, but only one son survived to adulthood. Chase was interested in this aspect of Lincoln’s life. He learned that Robert, the oldest Lincoln son, lived to be 82 years old and had three children (two daughters and one son). Robert’s relationship with his mother after the death of his father was often turbulent and has been the source of many writings since that time.

During our search for books about Lincoln, we found a very interesting book called Me and Willie and Pa by F. N. Monjo. The book was written as if Lincoln’s son Tad was the author. My student John learned that the family had one happy year in the White House. After Willie Lincoln died, the life of the family changed and was never the same as when they first moved in to the White House.

Mrs. Lincoln’s Purchases

Willie Lincoln’s death was hard for all the family members, and Mrs. Lincoln turned to spending money as a way to help ease the loss she felt. Ali shared information that Mrs. Lincoln went over the budget allowed her when she went shopping. Mary’s spending habits have been written about by many authors and was quite the “talk of the town” both during and after the Lincolns lived in the White House. Mary grew up in an affluent home; the availability of money during her childhood years may have had some influence on the shopping habits she exhibited as an adult.

Women’s Clothing of the Time

Taryn and Maria conducted extensive research about the clothing that women wore during the antebellum and Civil War years. They learned that the well-dressed lady of the day would have worn at least 13 layers of clothing, including several petticoats and/or hoop skirts under a dress. The students used the Donna McCreary book Fashionable First Lady – the Victorian Wardrobe of Mary Lincoln during their research. One of the other things that impressed the girls was the type of clothing women would wear if they had experienced a death in the family. Crepe was the fabric most often used for the mourning veil, and it was common for mourning dress to be worn for two years or more.

Toys of the Time

Ashley wanted to focus on the toys that Lincoln and his boys might have enjoyed during their lifetimes. She found that many of the toys and games of the 1800s are similar to the toys and games of today. For example, quoits is a game that is similar to horseshoes. Children of the 1800s had spinning tops, yo-yos, and checkers, and played games like “Hunt the Slipper,” a game in which one player must find a shoe hidden by the other players. Ashley was intrigued to learn that children took clay from creek and river beds, rolled them into balls, allowed them to dry, and used them for marbles. She noted that Lincoln could have used his skills with wood to create the toys that he used.

Lincoln’s Favorite Foods

Abby W. and Caroline decided to explore the foods that Lincoln might have like or would have eaten. They used Donna McCreary’s book Lincoln’s Table as the basis of their work. Lincoln’s love for gingerbread has been storied for years. During a Title I Family Literacy Night, the girls prepared gingerbread for their families and friends who attended the event.

A Young Girl’s Influence

Abby R. read a book called Lincoln’s Little Girl by Fred Trump. Now we all know that Abraham and Mary had four sons and no daughters, so Abby was curious about the title of this book. She learned the story of Grace Bedell, the 11-year-old girl who wrote Lincoln a letter recommending that he grow a beard to help his chances of being elected. Much to Abby’s surprise, she learned that Lincoln followed Grace’s advice and grew the beard during his campaign for President. We also learned from Abby’s work that Grace wrote Lincoln a second letter when she was 15, seeking a job with the U.S. Treasury, and asked the President if he might help her get the job so she could help support her family.

Lincoln’s Speeches

Jake decided to study the speeches of Abraham Lincoln. He even ventured to memorize the Gettysburg Address and deliver it as part of the presentation for Family Literacy Night. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was only 272 words long, but the words were quite powerful in their message to those present. We decided that the people who were at Gettysburg were quite relieved that the speech was short — Edward Everett, the man who spoke before Lincoln, talked for 2½ hours. Jake learned that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was recited at another site of great loss of life — the first anniversary commemoration of the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Then-Governor of New York George Pataki chose to recite this address as a tribute to those who lost their lives on the site on September 11, 2001. When asked why the Gettysburg Address would be used, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg responded, “ I think it's the most appropriate thing that anybody could say. If you read it, it talks about hallowed ground, it talks of the continuity that's America, and it points out that the 2,800 people who died on 9/11 are heroes who have died so we can continue to practice our religion and have the freedoms that we want. Everything that Abraham Lincoln talked about is still true today. We should remember that and keep our vigil up.”

Lincoln’s Assassination

Hayley, who loves acting, read Very Truly Yours, Mary Lincoln by Nancy Mitch Nilsson, and reenacted one section of the book. From the text of Very Truly Yours, Mary Lincoln, we gain an insight into the thoughts and feelings of Mary as she dressed to go to the Ford’s Theatre with her husband on Friday April 14, 1865.

Austin H. became very interested in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln because he discovered a connection between the Surratt family and his own family. (One of those convicted of conspiracy to kill Lincoln was a Maryland woman named Mary Surratt.) Austin researched the assassination, John Wilkes Booth, and those involved in the conspiracy to kill the president. Austin was interested in the way that Booth died and learned that he was shot in his spine and then died in a burning barn. Austin gained information about the assassination from a History Channel video set The Lincoln Assassination.

Boy Lincoln Sculpture

Boy Lincoln Sculpture

Memorializing Lincoln

Since Lincoln’s death, many memorials and representations of him have been created. J.C. studied the memorials that have been created to honor Lincoln. He and his family had visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and he was impressed with the building and what it represented.

Michaela was interested in creating a chocolate sculpture of Abraham Lincoln and researched different sculptures that have been created of Lincoln’s likeness. She learned about the sculpture in the Kentucky Capitol rotunda that was created by Adolph Weinman. Weinman is also the sculptor of the statue of Abraham Lincoln that was dedicated in the square of the city of Hodgenville. In May, 2008, a statue of Lincoln as a boy was unveiled in the Hodgenville square, located opposite the Weinman sculpture. The Boy Lincoln was sculpted by the firm of Daub-Firmin-Hendrickson. During the Lincoln Bicentennial, Lincoln sculptures were also dedicated in Springfield, Kentucky, and at Louisville’s Waterfront Park.